PA vs. NP?

At Bandera Family Health Care we have a diverse group of healthcare providers in order to keep up with the need for specialized health care. Two such healthcare professions are that of a physician assistant (PA) and nurse practitioner (NP). Both of these professions are somewhat similar, with only subtle differences between them. This close similarity in job descriptions often poses a problem, as many people find it difficult to differentiate between the two specialties. This article helps you understand the two specialties in detail and clears up any existing confusion between them.

Both PAs and NPs require a formal degree of education and both are trained to take care of the ill and deliver healthcare to those in need. While at first glance they may appear to be similar, there are some differences between the two professions which mainly relate to the type of education that each profession requires.

Nurse Practitioner: A nurse practitioner, or NP, is essentially a more academically advanced and experienced registered nurse. In fact, a registered nurse acquires a nurse practitioner certification when he or she advances from a bachelor’s degree (BN) to a masters or doctoral degree and qualifies through a national exam. Nurse practitioners must follow through with continued education and recertify after a certain number of years. Nurse practitioners may also need to apply for additional responsibilities at the state level.

Physician Assistant (PA): A physician assistant, or PA, must also earn a masters degree. After this, a physician assistant must qualify by taking a national certification exam, called the PANCE, and practice under a trained physician. Physician assistants must also pursue continued education and state licensure. In addition, PA’s have to re-certify after a certain amount of time through another examination, which is called the PANRE.

One major difference between the practice of physician assistants and nurse practitioners is that a physician assistant must practice under the supervision of a physician. Although physician assistants, or PAs, may be able to perform certain duties on their own, they do this under the authority of their supervising physician. On the other hand, nurse practitioners may have more independence in that they can carry out some tasks in providing healthcare and assistance independently, without supervision by a physician, depending upon state laws, level of education, and additional certifications and qualifications achieved. Another difference to consider when looking at a PA vs. a NP, is the areas of specialization that are available. NPs can work in many different and diverse areas, such as geriatrics, mental health, pediatrics and women’s health. PAs have more of a generalized education, but can also specialize in areas that may include emergency medicine, orthopedics and general surgery.

When being seen by a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner, keep in mind that both are able to diagnose and treat illness in addition to prescribe medication just like any provider would. Feel confident that he or she will take excellent care of you.